Audiobook Review: Ruinsong by Julia Ember

Her voice was her prison…
Now it’s her weapon.

In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.

But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.

CW: torture

I’ve been very very excited to read Ruinsong since the first time I saw that gorgeous purple cover and to be honest, I didn’t even bother to read the premise in detail. I just knew I needed this book in my life.

The world the author creates in this book is full of cruelty and fear, and it wasn’t always easy to read. The history of the world, the mythology of the goddesses and the song magic system, the backstory of the current Queen’s ascension and the hierarchy of the people in this world is also described wonderfully without ever feeling like an infodump and I found myself quickly get pulled deep into the story. As someone who loves singing despite being a bad singer myself, I loved the magic system even when it was used in grotesque ways.

The plot itself wasn’t very complicated – its a straightforward tale of a tyrant queen and a brewing rebellion to overthrow her. This was mostly a character driven story and hence mostly full of inner monologues and conversations, rather than action. This did make the pacing feel quite slow and as if nothing much was happening, but then everything came to a head too quickly towards the end which felt too simple and unrealistic. Otherwise, the writing itself was easy to get through and while I’m not always comfortable diving into a new fantasy world via the audiobook, the narration of this one was very good and I never found it difficult to understand.

The characters Remy and Cadence are definitely the backbone of this novel. Cadence maybe blessed with powerful magic but what she doesn’t have much is choice in how to exercise it. Her struggle with the tasks that she is assigned and what she is asked to overlook is palpable through the pages, and this theme of how much cruelty one can let go just to ensure one’s survival forms one of the main questions the author asks us through the story. Cadence is a very sympathetic figure and I could really empathize with her fear and her need to heal people after being forced to do horrible things.

Remy on the other hand maybe part of the nobility that is reviled by the queen, but she still has a slightly privilege life and couldn’t always understand the struggle that Cadence was facing. I ofcourse understood her rage at the cruelties her family and her friends faced at the hands of the queen, but I also thought she was slightly harsh in judging Cadence for her choices at various points in the story. But Remy’s character arc highlights the other main theme of the story – how far will one go and sacrifice for the sake of protecting their family. Even when their friendship deepened and it looked like it was becoming something more, I wasn’t sure there was enough trust between them for a long lasting love. But I still enjoyed their interactions a lot and it’s nice to see more sapphic couples in fantasy.

To conclude, this was an enjoyable standalone fantasy with a very cool singing magic system and two female characters with their own kinds of strengths, fighting back against an oppressive system. It maybe slow but this story of resilience and standing up to cruelty is definitely worth a read. But don’t mistake this for a romance novel – you’ll get to see the beginnings of a sapphic relationship but that’s not the crux of this story.

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